what are circuit workouts

What is Circuit Training & Why You Should Do It

August 22, 2020

How does a workout that torches fat and builds muscle at the same time sound to you? Pretty great, right? That’s what Circuit Training is all about. Circuit training is like a supercharged workout routine that combines both strength training and cardio simultaneously. What’s more, it is extremely versatile in its programming, so it never gets boring. There are literally endless ways that you can create a circuit workout. 

Read on to learn all about Circuit Training so you can improve cardiovascular health, metabolic health, muscular endurance and muscular strength all in one workout. We are going to discuss exactly what circuit training is and how you can do it, what the benefits of circuit training are, and how you can implement it into your current workout plan. Additionally, we are going to provide some circuit workout examples that you can try as soon as today!

Let’s begin…

Circuit Training

WHAT IS CIRCUIT TRAINING?

Circuit training involves a combination of exercises, typically 3 or more, performed with short rest periods between them for a set number of repetitions or an allotted time. Any particular circuit can be done for one or more rounds, and a circuit workout can incorporate a number of different circuits. Most circuit workouts consist of 2 to 4 unique circuits with 3 or more exercises done for 2 to 4 rounds.

For example, a full body circuit workout may comprise 3 different circuits - one lower body circuit, one upper body circuit, and one full body, compound movement circuit.

Because of how circuit workouts are structured, you have a high volume of working time in a short duration. Most circuits have a 2 to 1 work-rest ratio. This is why they are effective for both cardio and strength training.

A typical circuit workout ranges from 20-40 minutes. However, they can be more or less time.

As for equipment and exercises for circuit workouts, you can use anything and do anything you want. There are no rules. All exercises and equipment are on the table. However, keep in mind that you want to choose exercises and weight loads that are sustainable with good form for the duration of the workout, especially considering the short rest intervals.

If you have any questions about circuit training, keep reading on as we will likely answer them all in this post…

What is circuit training

CIRCUIT TRAINING VS HIIT

Is circuit training the same as HIIT?

While HIIT and circuit training have similarities, they are not the same. One of the biggest differences between the two is HIIT is always done at nearly maximum effort, while circuit training can be moderate to high intensity (it can even be done at low intensity for beginners).

The ultimate goal of HIIT is to get your heart rate to 85-95% max during working time and never drop below 60-65% with your rest intervals. Circuit training has no such demands. 

This also means HIIT workouts are typically shorter, not just more intense, as you can only go so long at full intensity. What’s more, HIIT usually involves bodyweight exercises only, oftentimes just one explosive exercise, such as sprints (although HIIT can be done with training tools as well), whereas circuit training has a lot more variety in exercises and equipment that can be used. Not to mention, the structure of the workout's work-rest time.

An HIIT workout will always be full body, yet a circuit workout can target your full body or even just one muscle group. 

Because of this, the benefits of circuit training vary based on what kind of circuit workout you are doing and what your overall goal is.

Where circuit training and HIIT are similar, generally speaking, is that both provide benefits for cardiovascular health and metabolic health. In terms of building muscle, standard circuit training is usually more effective as you can really hone in on muscles that you want to target, which better promotes hypertrophy.

As HIIT and circuit training are not the same, it would be fine to incporate both into your workout plan. 

An effective weekly workout routine for someone who has a goal to get into all-around great shape could involve 3 circuit workouts and two HIIT workouts, spaced out accordingly.

Day 1: HIIT
Day 2: Circuit Training
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Circuit Training
Day 5: HIIT
Day 6: Circuit Training
Day 7: Rest

You could also use other workout protocols, i.e.

Day 1: HIIT
Day 2: Circuit Training
Day 3: EMOM
Day 4: Active Rest day
Day 5: Full Body Strength Training
Day 6: Yoga
Day 7: Rest

or…

Day 1: Upper Body (strength and hypertrophy focused)
Day 2: Lower Body (strength and hypertrophy focused)
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: HIIT
Day 5: Circuit Training
Day 6: Rest
Repeat

If you are feeling really active, you could do two-a-days. Then you can keep a normal split. This is good if you are into conventional training but you want to up your metabolic and cardiovascular training.

What’s more, you could turn a typical split (i.e. push/pull, upper/lower, muscle groups) into circuit training. All you have to do is put your exercises into a circuit training format. You could even just turn part of your typical workout into a circuit. Adding one or two circuits to a standard weightlifting workout is great too! 

circuit workouts

IS CIRCUIT TRAINING EFFECTIVE?

Circuit training is a time-tested method of fitness proven to be as effective as conventional weightlifting. Of course, the benefits of the two are different. If your goal is purely to build muscle, then conventional weightlifting is probably your best bet. However, if you are looking to get into overall great shape, which means cardiovascular health, metabolic health, endurance, and strength, circuit training is a fantastic option as you can achieve all of these benefits at the same time. That’s the beauty of circuit training, it’s a multi-faceted, efficient form of training.

SHOULD I DO CIRCUIT TRAINING?

This really depends on your fitness goal. if your goal is to improve body composition and get into great shape, go for circuit training. But if your goal is to put on serious mass, then go for conventional weightlifting and save circuit training for when it’s time to burn fat, as you can maintain muscle while losing fat with circuit training, like you can with HIIT.

To give you a better idea of if circuit training is right for you, let’s run through the benefits of circuit training…

CIRCUIT TRAINING BENEFITS

  • You’ll Never Get Bored: If standard weightlifting or cardio is boring to you, circuit training is a great option. You’ll be moving from one exercise (or station) to the next, so you will never have time to even think about being bored. The rest time is too short for scrolling on your phone too! What’s more, you’ll get a lot more variety in terms of exercises during your workout, which a lot of people appreciate as it keeps things fresh throughout any given workout. All in all, it’s a much more dynamic, active way of training than your typical bodybuilding with sets and reps and a lot of rest time.
  • Efficient Way To Stay in Great Shape for Busy People: For people with limited time, being able to get strength training and cardio done in one workout is a game-changer. And it’s not only efficient, it’s incredibly effective.
  • Many Fitness Benefits All-In-One: Circuit training will help you blast fat off your body while sculpting lean muscle and improving endurance, cardio, and metabolic health. It’s almost too good to be true, but it is nevertheless the truth.
  • Burns Tons of Calories: You’ll burn as many or more calories than standard weightlifting in around half the time. Some experts say a good circuit workout burns up to 30 percent more calories than typical weight training. This because there is very little rest compared to bodybuilding, and especially compared to powerlifting. You will be keeping your heart rate up for the duration of the workout, which is why you will burn so many more calories. With that kind of intensity, you will be burning calories well after your workout too. That’s what metabolic training is all about!
  • Increases Your VO2 Max: If you are trying to improve your athletic performance, circuit training will be highly advantageous because it is shown to increase the amount of oxygen your body can consume during intense exercise.
  • Workout Anywhere You’d Like: With circuit training, you are not limited to the weight room. You can get a circuit workout in at home or outside as well, because all you really need are bodyweight exercises, and if you use fitness tools, they are usually lighter weight equipment like dumbbells, resistance bandsand kettlebells, so people can easily bring those around with them to the park and they are space-friendly for homes.
  • Works For All Fitness Levels: Circuit training can be set up in countless ways and levels of intensity, so a workout can be adjusted to any level. Often times, HIIT is not good for beginners as the level of intensity required is too taxing. Circuit training doesn’t have this issue as you are not required to do such vigorous movements. It all depends on your fitness level for what your circuit workout entails.

Overall, if you are looking to improve your cardiovascular health, metabolic health, muscular endurance, muscular strength, and body composition without spending countless hours working out, circuit training is for you.

circuit workout benefits

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU DO CIRCUIT TRAINING?

If circuit workouts are your main form of training, you should give yourself adequate rest just like you would with typical weightlifting resistance training. So, if you do full body circuit workouts, give yourself one rest day in-between each workout. If you break up your circuit workouts into upper and lower body, then you could do 2 days on, one day off, or even 4 days on, one day off for those who are more advanced and who have great sleeping and eating habits. All in all, you should listen to your body and make sure you get adequate recovery time to avoid overtraining, which is a very real thing.

Let’s give you some examples of how a trainee may employ circuit workouts into various types of routines.

Goal - Building Muscle:

Day 1: Upper Body Weight Lifting
Day 2: Lower Body Weight Lifting
Day 3: REST
Day 4: Upper Body Circuit Workout
Day 5: Lower Body Circuit Workout
Day 6: REST
DAY 7: REST

or…

Day 1: Upper Body Weight Lifting
Day 2: Lower Body Circuit Workout
Day 3: REST
Day 4: Upper Body Circuit Workout
Day 5: Lower Body Weight Lifting
Day 6: REST
DAY 7: REST

Goal - Fat Loss:

Day 1: Full Body Circuit Workout
Day 2: YOGA
Day 3: Full Body Circuit Workout
Day 4: Rest/Cardio
Day 5: Full Body Circuit Workout
Day 6: 10-15 Minute HIIT
Day 7: REST

Another great way to add circuit training into your existing workout plan

If you don’t want to completely change up your routine, you can simply add circuits to your current workouts.

For example, if you do an upper/lower split, you could add one circuit into your typical upper and lower body workouts.

Upper Body Workout with an Added Circuit:

Main Workout:

  • Incline Bench Press x 4 sets
  • Bent Over Rows x 4 sets
  • Shoulder Press x 4 sets

Circuit:
2-3 rounds, Rest 20-30 seconds between rounds.

  • Push Ups x 20 reps
  • Bicep Curls x 12 reps each side
  • Tricep Dips x 20 reps
  • Flys x 10 reps

Since you will have two upper body workouts each week, do a similar format on day 2, but with different exercises (for example, add flat bench instead of incline).

best circuit training equipment

BEST CIRCUIT TRAINING EQUIPMENT

Any fitness equipment will work for circuit training, which is why circuit training is so versatile. From barbells and kettlebells to resistance bands and weight lifting machines, any equipment and exercise can be used to create a circuit workout. 

Here’s our favorite circuit training equipment:

If you are looking to buy home equipment, you really can forgo the barbell if you want to save space. Kettlebells, resistance bands, and steel maces would be the perfect combination.

By the way, any given circuit workout can use a variety of equipment, you don't have to just choose one. You could have 5 exercises, each using a different kind of fitness tool or a bodyweight exercise.

HOW TO CREATE A CIRCUIT WORKOUT

Because a circuit workout can incorporate any fitness equipment, exercise, sequence, and rep scheme, there are literally endless combinations. A circuit workout can be designed to your time, mood and goal. To create a circuit, all you have to do is choose a number of exercises, a rep count for each (or a predetermined working time), the rest time between each exercise (which should be relatively short to get that cardio benefit), and how many rounds you will do.

To give you an idea, here are some circuit workout examples based on various fitness equipment and overall fitness goals…

circuit workout examples

CIRCUIT WORKOUT EXAMPLES

Circuit Workout for Fat Loss & Endurance

Equipment: Kettlebell & Resistance Bands
Target: Full Body - Fat Loss & Muscular Endurance
Circuits: 2
Rounds: 3 each

Circuit 1
Exercise 1: Kettlebell Swings x 15 reps
Exercise 2: Kettlebell Push Ups x 15 reps
Exercise 3: Resistance Band Seated Rows x 15 reps
Exercise 4: Kettlebell Goblet Squats x 15 reps
- Rest 30 seconds between each exercise

Circuit 2
Exercise 1: Resistance Band Deadlifts x 12 reps
Exercise 2: Kettlebell Snatches x 10 reps (each side)
Exercise 3: Resistance Band Curls x 12 reps
Exercise 4: Resistance Band Thrusters x 12 reps
- Rest 30 seconds between each exercise

Circuit Workout for Muscle Building & Strength

Equipment: Barbell/Plates
Target: Full Body - Muscular Strength & Hypertrophy
Circuits: 1
Rounds: 4

Note: 
- Choose a weight load that challenges you for the rep count given. However, make sure the weight is sustainable. Start lighter if you have doubts and next time you can up the weight.
- If you can, set up stations so you don’t have to keep changing the weights with each exercise.

Exercise 1: Deadlifts x 5 reps
Exercise 2: Bench Press x 8 reps
Exercise 3: Squats x 5 reps
Exercise 4: Military Shoulder Press x 10 reps
Exercise 5: Hanging Leg Raises x 8
- Rest 1 minute between each exercise.

Upper Body Bodyweight Circuit Workout for Conditioning

Equipment: Bodyweight-only
Target: Chest, Back, Shoulder, Arms, Abs - Overall Conditioning
Circuits: 3
Rounds: 2 each

Circuit 1
Exercise 1: Push ups x 20 reps
Exercise 2: Planks x 30 seconds
Exercise 3: Pull Ups x 8 reps
- 20 second rest between exercises

Circuit 2
Exercise 1: Pike Push Ups x 10 reps
Exercise 2: Mountain Climbers x 30 seconds
Exercise 3: Superman Extensions x 10 reps with 2-3 second pause
- 20 second rest between exercises

Circuit 3
Exercise 1: Incline Push Ups x 15 reps
Exercise 2: Lying Leg Raises x 15 reps
Exercise 3: Chin Ups x 10 reps
- 20 second rest between exercises

Lower Body Bodyweight Circuit Workout for Conditioning

Equipment: Bodyweight-only
Target: Quads, Hamstrings, Calves - Overall Conditioning
Circuits: 2
Rounds: 4 each

Circuit 1
Exercise 1: Air Squats x 20 reps
Exercise 2: Lateral Squats x 20 reps (10 each side)
Exercise 3: Jumping Jacks x 1 min
Exercise 4: Glute Bridge with March x 20 reps (10 each side)
- 30 seconds rest between each exercise

Circuit 2
Exercise 1: Jumping Lunges x 20 reps (10 each side)
Exercise 2: Skier Jacks x 1 min
Exercise 3: Curtsy Lunge x 20 reps (10 each side)
Exercise 4: Reverse Lunge x 20 reps (10 each side)
- 30 seconds rest between each exercise

As you can see, there are so many ways you can go about circuit training. Adjust the exercises, reps, and rest time according to your goals.

STEEL MACE & BODYWEIGHT CIRCUIT WORKOUT

Paulina Kairys brings us another challenging steel mace and bodyweight workout! This workout incorporates both complex mace work and bodyweight movements. It is based on 2 circuits, with 3 exercises in each, and the workout ends with a classic macebell finisher.


See the workout details below...

STEEL MACE CIRCUIT WORKOUT DETAILS

Circuit 1:
- 45 seconds work, 20 seconds rest x 3 rounds

Exercise 1: Battle Lunges
steel mace circuit workout

Exercise 2: Loaded Beast to Vertical Jump
circuit training benefits

Exercise 3: Mace Crossovers to Push Up
what is circuit training good for

Circuit 2:
- 45 seconds work, 20 seconds rest x 3 rounds

Exercise 1: Switch Squat to Curtsy Lunge w/ Archer
is circuit training effective

Exercise 2: Lateral Monkey Crawls
are circuit workouts good

Exercise 3: Half-Kneeling Press to Windmill
should i do circuit training

Finisher:
3 minutes straight of mace 360s (choke up on the handle if it gets tough for you!)

Buy a Steel Mace

SUMMARY

Overall, circuit training is one of the best protocols in fitness, which is why so many professionals use it. From pro athletes to elite fitness trainers, circuit training surely has its place. After all, it's a workout that provides so many benefits in one.

If you want to improve your overall conditioning and body composition, start implementing circuit workouts into your routine.



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